Wine and Food Kind of Day

Thursday – April 27


We missed an important event yesterday in the blog! As we were saying our good nights yesterday, there was a very important event that occurred. Richard and Diane’s last piece of lost luggage arrived. It was Diane’s bag. They had endured a nightmare travel adventure in getting to Palermo. Cancelled flights and lost luggage terrifies every traveler, and they got to experience both.

We always pack a change of clothes and everything we need for a day in our carry-on bag just in case our bags decide not to join us. In our coming travels, we may have to consider putting a blend of his & her clothes in our bags. That way, nobody is out everything if one of the suitcases decides to go to London and your trip is to Palermo. Food for thought for future travelers.

The posse was up early and standing in front of Hotel Tonic with all their belongings. Today, we boarded the bus to begin our counterclockwise journey around Sicily. The hotel sits on a very narrow street, so we hauled our suitcases a half block to where Salvo, the driver, awaited us with a smile.

The luggage and assorted carry-ons took up the entire under-carriage storage area. Piling on the bus, everyone set claim to their own little area inside, and if we are like most, we will not change our seat location for the entire trip. 😊

Now all settled in to begin the day’s adventure, Salvo started weaving through the streets of Palermo. Danilo, using the bus’s microphone, gave us an overview of the day and the sights we passed. The first stop of the day would be Erice, the hilltop village that we had visited on Saturday. It would only be a quick stop for everyone to experience this beautiful quaint village and the views it offers.

The ride went quickly, and we passed Isola delle Femmine and the sights we had seen with Antonio our chauffeur. It was another beautiful day, and although we had passed these sights before, they were still breathtaking.

Then like a lightning bolt, a realization of what was to come struck both of us. The cable car ride to the top of Erice had been fun, but a little scary. The ride down the mountain in Antonio’s van was a little intense. We are getting ready to transit up and down the mountain in a bus! There were a few times as we climbed up that mountain when people leaned towards the aisle away from the window. However, sitting higher in the bus offered some spectacular unobstructed views!

Once at the top, there was one place it seemed like everyone needed to visit. It is wise when using public restrooms in Sicily that somewhere in your purse or backpack that you keep a euro or two and some TP. You will need both.

Everyone dispersed quickly to explore the ancient village of Erice. We took advantage of this second visit to go the shopping area and bought a few things we wished we would have picked up on our last visit.

In one restaurant window we saw a twist on the arancini. These small balls of rice and filling can be found everywhere, but this was our first time seeing them in shapes and faces.

Each souvenir shop pretty much had the same thing. Tom was just as happy standing outside on the street admiring the items in the window or just people watching.

The slippery cobblestones and the steepness of the hill can make for a challenging adventure if one does not have good shoes. The town was much more crowded than it had been on Saturday. Our hour of free time evaporated quickly, and we headed down the hill to board the bus again. Next destination was for lunch and a wine tasting at Cantine Pellegrino. This family-owned winery has been in operation from 1880 to the present.

This modern facility is Pellegrino’s home and where they make and age their Marsala wines. Many folks think Marsala wine is a cooking wine, but it is soooooo much more. A fortified wine, like Sherry or Madeira, Marsala offers layers of flavor. Nuts, cherry, dried fruits, honey, tobacco, and licorice just to name a few. This is a very complicated liquid, and it also has a very complicated procedure to produce it. Marsala is one of the most undervalued wines on the market today. It ranges from a very dry offering to syrup sweet and everything in between. Tom was excited about the tour and tasting, but lunch would be first.

Sicily over the past years has been unfortunately known for its bulk wines. These days are rapidly fading as high-quality wines have surpassed the bulk products of the past. As we headed to the Pellegrino kitchen and restaurant, we entered a tall cylindric room. It was absolutely beautiful and on the outside walls a spiral staircase circled its way to the top – this would be our destination.

My guess is we walked up five or six stories. This beautiful climb was accomplished in a renovated bulk wine storage tank! Wow – talk about repurposing! From a bulk wine storage tank to a stairway to heaven. Some in our group took an elevator and some made the climb, but both walked out into a dining room kitchen like no other. Surrounded by 360 degrees of glass, one could not help thinking of the lyrics of the Who’s song: I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles.

Giuseppe, our host, introduced us to the chef and his assistants. With a dry wit and a smile, the chef welcomed us and told us to put on our aprons.

Cantine Pellegrino is a very large operation with four different locations on the island. They make a wide array of wines, some of which were opened and waiting for our enjoyment. Everyone grabbed a glass as we got instructions on the details of our task.

The task you ask – The group is to make their own lunch! We split up in groups of 5 or 6 at different tables. In the center was a table of beautiful fresh ingredients that would be all that we needed to create a meal under the chef’s watchful eye.

The main dish would be couscous with seafood broth and then dressed in fresh seafood. There would be chickpea panelle on the side with an eggplant tapenade, and of course fresh cannoli for everyone! So how hard could it be to make this… we use Near East couscous in the box all the time. Minutes from the stove to the plate. Well, when making real couscous, that is not the case. It took at least 15 minutes to work the water, onion, garlic, and parsley slowly into the grain manually. It was all about the fingers and agitating the couscous to absorb the water, then repeat.

Andy took the lead from our table to manipulate the couscous, while everyone else did the chopping of the ingredients. Once all the tables had completed their couscous preparation, the grain was combined into one big bowl. The chef put the couscous in a double boiler with dough around the seams of the pots so steam would not leak out. Couscous must steam for 60 to 90 minutes. Little pieces of dough are added to the top of the couscous that look like calamari and will be the indicator when the couscous is done. The pot is covered with a cotton cloth to catch any moisture and the timer is set. So much for five minutes out of the box.

Time for step 2 – the broth! We all gathered around the stove and our instruction continued.

The chef added all types of seafood into a big pot. He then shared a secret that we will not tell, but we will say Ice Ice Baby!

Next was the panelle. How hard can it be to mix a bag of chickpea flour and water to create a dish. Well again Andy stepped forward to take on the task. After thirty minutes of hard work and sweat from stirring the mixture over the stove, the batter finally reached perfection. The dough was spread out on a large cutting board and then sliced into smaller pieces. A pot of hot oil on the stove fried these delights in seconds.

The tapenade had been completed earlier by the chef, so it was time to make our dessert! A big bowl of ricotta cheese awaited. By adding a little sugar and spices the white filling was squirted into the shells.

After 90 minutes of assisting the chef and completing each task assigned, our lunch was ready! The main dish, seafood couscous, was plated and our creation came alive!

The lunch was well worth the effort and time. What a special meal with new friends, in a new country, paired with fabulous wines! Life is good!

At the end of the meal there was one more treat to experience. Cantine Pellegrino makes a dessert wine that Danilo told us was called “Tears of the Sun”. The wine, Passito di Pantelleria, comes from Pantelleria, a small volcanic island off the coast of Tunisia. This muscat dessert wine is just over the moon. Liquid Gold! It is a very limited production and is probably very difficult to find in the US. Tom stayed true to his plan of not carrying any bottles home, but as we started the tour the remorse of missing a chance to buy this wine was already setting in.

Cantine Pellegrino is a wine producer, but it is so much more. It is a family! Giuseppe showed us a wall where the generations are documented on a mural of a tree.

As a family, the Pellegrino family is very conscious of the past. While renovating this beautiful facility, they discovered a Punic age archeological site. Some building ruins are preserved under glass to ease viewing of these archeological treasures. Even in the cellar one can find more artifacts on display. This catapult ball was located on site. Another item on display was a boat from the Punic age that was found offshore of the winery. A museum containing ancient items with Marsala wine slowly aging seemed so appropriate.

We were lucky enough to do a couple barrel tasting of Marsala, and the quality of these wines was immediately evident. The aromas and flavors are like no other wine.

Giuseppe took us to a small room off the barrel cellar and gave an overview of the process to make Marsala. The different styles of Marsala each offer a different flavor profile. He also explained the aging process using a solera system which allows for very old wines to remain fresh and offer layers of enjoyment.

When the lunch, wine tasting, and tour was completed, we loaded back on the bus and headed to the famous salt flats of Marsala. We had enjoyed Cantine Pellegrino so much that time was getting away from us. Only a short ride away to our destination, but the museum had already closed by our arrival. However, the salt was there and the souvenir shop was still open!

It was time to head to Agrigento, which is located on the southern shore of Sicily in what is known as the Valley of the Temples. Our ride to the hotel would be almost two hours and it would be dark by the time we arrived. It was reported that there was some snoring on the journey to Agrigento, but that cannot be verified by Tom 😉

We arrived at Colleverde Park Hotel and began the check-in process. It had been a long day, but no one was complaining about it because it had been too much fun. We ended up at the back of the line for check in and Danilo and the hotel agent were in deep discussion by the time we got to the counter. The agent handed us keys and said a porter must assist us to our room. We were on the fourth floor and the elevator did not service that floor. We arrived at the room and a small spiral staircase led to our room. Opening the door, we realized immediately that we were in a very special place. Opening the sliding glass doors, we stepped out onto a deck that was probably 30’ x 30’, which offered us this view.

We headed down for dinner as the group were assembling in the hotel restaurant. The food was good, but nothing over the top. Good hotel food, but it was a nice break for Tom. No pasta, there were two of Tom’s favorites – meat and fruit!

Everyone retired soon after dinner. We returned to the room and sat on the deck admiring all that surrounded us in the dark. The anticipation of what the view would be at sunrise finally enticed us to go to bed. Sleep quick – Sunrise in 6 hours 30 minutes!

Ciao from the Valley of the Temples


  1. Another beautiful day spent with a great group of fellow travelers!

  2. ... and our cooking was superb don't you think :)